Burger King revealed last week that it is testing the Impossible Burger, a plant-based meat substitute, as a potential addition to its menu. This is the latest example—and one of the most high-profile—of food and beverage marketers embracing products that can serve as replacements for meat and other staples. These items are meant to appeal to the growing number of consumers who simply want to cut down a bit on their consumption of meat, dairy, gluten, and the like, as well as those who are vegan or vegetarian or dealing with specific health issues.
Some categories that have started to attract the attention of licensors include:
- Vegetable-based grain substitutes. Supermarkets and restaurants are seeing growth in items such as broccoli tots, zucchini and sweet potato pasta, and cauliflower rice. Oprah’s O brand, sold in partnership with Kraft Heinz, offers cauliflower crust pizzas and cauliflower-based mashed “potatoes” among its assortment of healthier frozen foods.
- Alternative proteins made from ingredients such as peas or almonds, used as substitutes for proteins derived from wheat, dairy, eggs, and meat. Tom Brady’s TB12 brand sells a powdered pea protein, launched earlier this year in chocolate and vanilla flavors, that is a replacement for traditional whey protein powders. TB12 also features pea protein as an ingredient in some of the dishes in its vegan meal kits with Purple Carrot.
- Dairy replacements. Lactose-intolerant consumers have long been able to purchase soy, rice, and almond milk, and the landscape is broadening to include additional beverages made from coconut, hemp, cashews, and more. HP Hood has produced Almond Breeze milk substitute under license from Blue Diamond Growers since 2008 and earlier this year expanded into almond milk creamer and almond milk with real bananas.
- Snack substitutes. Consumers increasingly are looking for salty snacks that taste as good as potato or corn chips but give them more nutrients, fiber, and/or protein. Tapatio recently licensed iWon Organics for a line of spicy high-protein chips and puffs that include brown rice flour, pea protein, black beans, amaranth flour, quinoa flour, and millet flour.
- Non-alcoholic cocktails. These appeal not just to recovering alcoholics and consumers who cannot or do not want to drink spirits, but also to those trying to reduce their consumption of alcohol or cut calories. Last month Welch’s, a licensor into many food and beverage categories, added a sparkling non-alcoholic mimosa to its line; it introduced an alcohol-free rosé wine last year and also markets mocktails including piña coladas, daiquiris, and sangria.
- Vegan “meat.” Meat substitutes can be made from ingredients such as tofu, seitan, tempeh, jackfruit, vegetable protein, mushrooms, and lentils, among others, and companies such as Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat are marketing products that taste and feel increasingly close to the real thing. Unilever licensed its Unox brand to a Dutch company called The Vegetarian Butcher in 2016 for a co-branded line of vegetarian meatballs in sauces such as satay and tomato. It subsequently acquired the company, in 2018.
Major meat-producing states including Mississippi, South Dakota, Missouri, and Montana are implementing new laws that make it illegal to use the term “meat” to describe plant-based alternatives. This is one indication of how ventures such as the ones discussed here are viewed as having enough growth potential to ultimately present a real threat to established food and beverage sectors.
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